Tuesday, January 18

A first novel: Dramatis personae

Today I began a dramatis personae for my novel. I had a character list before I began writing, but it was little more than the names of the five siblings at the center of the action, their relative ages and their motivations. This new character list includes the other twelve characters who've appeared so far, their relationships with relevant characters, their professions, their motivations and more precise ages for the children. It makes me feel awfully professional to have this. It makes me look like I know what's going on when I'm really just throwing words at the page as fast as I can to get the characters to the next place they need to be.

The names part of the list is the most important for me. Deciding on an appropriate name for a character can knock me off my writing stride for a good five minutes. I can never just pick a name and call it good. The name has to have a thematic resonance with historical or mythological overtones. It has to look good on the page and sound nice, too. It's a little bit easier when the vast majority of the characters so far are from a single Kenyan tribe, and I only know so many tribal names, but it can still throw me. I've avoided that particular block for these first weeks by just calling them by a family name and title, but no longer. They all have names now, even if no one ever actually says their name. It seems smarter than just calling a man "the uncle" or "the father" sentence after sentence.

I have another reason for this small writing diversion. It reminds me that a character exists. In general, I know what the five main characters want, and I even have some idea of whether they will get those things or not. What I don't know is how they'll get to that point or how it'll change them. I need to remember these characters that they can appear again, drive the leads to or from their goals. I don't just want these characters to appear for a scene or few pages, to say their bit and leave. I want them to really exist within the story. I want characters to come back later in the story in different circumstances. This novel is going to cover years. There will be plenty of time and opportunity for revenges to be carried out and goods rewarded.

I wonder if I should include this in the completed novel. I haven't seen one in a contemporary novel for years, but it could help the readers navigate all the foreign names, especially when every woman's name begins with 'Chep.' I guess people manage through Russian novels somehow without though.

Word count as of today? Fifteen thousand and eighteen words.

1 comment:

Spencer said...

Keep it up, Chris! I know a good critique website, if you're interested in that sort of thing.